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MSU Billings women rally past SFU; men fall at Saint Martin's

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Posted at 6:45 AM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 13:22:04-05

(Editor's note: MSUB athletics press release)

BILLINGS – Shaking off a slow first quarter on Saturday night at Alterowitz Gym, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team stormed to a 78-66 Great Northwest Athletic Conference victory over visiting Simon Fraser University.

SFU (5-8, 1-3 GNAC) led 26-17 after the opening 10 minutes of play, with GNAC Preseason Player of the Year Jessica Jones scoring 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting in the period. The Yellowjackets adjusted defensively and limited the team’s top scorer to just 1-for-12 accuracy the rest of the night however, and came alive offensively with their third-highest point total of the season. “Mostly it is our communication,” junior guard Skylar Patton commented on the defensive adjustment the team made on Jones. “We have Kortney on defense and Chloe and Dani helped on her too, and they just had to know that they had to get out on her. It took a team effort to communicate and know where she was at all times.”

Patton scored 11 points and had eight assists – her highest total in a Yellowjacket uniform – as she keyed the ‘Jackets to victory with a gritty performance off the bench. “It’s easy to get that many assists when you have teammates like mine,” Patton said. “They are always in the right spots and always getting open, so really all I have to do is keep my eyes open and they are going to be there to knock it down.”

“I am really happy for her,” MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin commented on the second-year Yellowjacket. “She sparked us, and was a big key for us tonight. Offensively she scored, but she also distributed the ball and guarded hard.”

MSUB improved to 8-7 on the season with the win, and is now 2-1 in conference play. The Yellowjackets won their second straight game dating back to Dec. 18, 2021, after having Thursday’s tie with No. 7 Western Washington University postponed due to COVID-19 protocol. “It’s definitely very satisfying and exciting,” Patton commented on winning after a three-week layoff. “It was a waiting game and we had a lot of anticipation, but we just tried to stay prepared for anything.”

Patton was 1 of 5 Yellowjackets to reach double figures in scoring, with senior Taryn Shelley leading the way at 19 points on 9-for-18 shooting. Shelley started the fourth quarter by scoring eight consecutive points, which elevated MSUB’s advantage to an insurmountable 12 points. “Taryn was really key, especially early in the fourth quarter,” Woodin commented on Shelley. “We went to her two or three times in-a-row, and she delivered for us.”

Shayla Montague spread four important 3-pointers throughout the game, and finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. “Shayla has really become consistent for us,” Woodin said. “We all know that she can shoot the ball from the perimeter, but she is doing other things so much better. She is a good, solid defender, very smart player, doesn’t turn the ball over, and offensively she is doing a tremendous job.”

Kortney Nelson added a dozen points, while Cariann Kunkel finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Nelson was also the primary defensive presence on Jones, helping limit her to seven points over the final 30 minutes of play. “It was a little rough at the start, and we really needed to just get going,” Patton said on MSUB out-scoring SFU 61-40 over the final three quarters. “Once we got our heads in the game and started playing together, we got back into the groove.”

Jones finished with 27 points on 7-for-14 shooting from 3-point range, while adding six rebounds and four assists in her third game of the season. Freshman Gemma Cutler just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds, and Georgia Swant also reached double figures with 11 points in her 23 minutes on the floor.

A layup by Cutler gave SFU a 32-21 advantage at the 7:49 mark in the second quarter, as the visitors reached their largest lead of the evening. Threes by Montague and Natalie Andreas sandwiched a bucket by Patton, as MSUB embarked on a 10-2 run that began to shift momentum. “We started to settle in midway through the second quarter, and I felt fortunate to be down by five at halftime,” said Woodin, whose team trailed 38-33 at the break. “Our team really worked hard in the second half, and our defense came alive. Everyone contributed, and it was a really good team win.”

Another three from Montague midway through the third tied the score at 42-42, and a pair of free throws by Nelson gave MSUB its first lead at 46-44. The ‘Jackets led the rest of the night, with Shelley’s big start to the fourth quarter helping the hosts distance themselves down the stretch. “I’m really proud of our whole team,” said Woodin. “I thought we had a good week of practice, and I was confident we were going to play well tonight. We have been down by double figures a couple of times this year, and luckily we have learned how to come back.”

MSUB shot a solid 46.9 percent in the game (30-for-64), including a mark of 8-for-22 from 3-point range (36.4 percent). The ‘Jackets knocked down 10 of 11 free throws (90.9 percent), and out-rebounded SFU 40-34. SFU meanwhile shot 42.2 percent (27-for-64) including 8-for-23 from long range (34.8 percent). The visitors made just four trips to the free-throw line, going 4-for-8.

“We were a little rusty, but give Simon credit,” Woodin commented on the opening quarter. “Jessica Jones showed why she was preseason player of the year, especially in that first half. We started slow defensively and offensively, and part of that was the layoff and nerves.”

Despite a late barrage of threes from Nicholas Sebastiao, MSUB's men fell 70-68 to Saint Martin’s in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference contest on Saturday night.

“It was a tough loss at home,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “We battled all the way back and took the lead but didn’t finish it. We just didn’t execute in the last two minutes with our three turnovers.”

“I’m excited we were able to get both games in this weekend, and we’ll learn from this,” Durham added.

The Yellowjackets (6-8, 2-2 GNAC) had a 68-64 lead with three minutes to go, but the Saints (9-3, 2-1 GNAC) scored six points while MSUB went 0-for-3 down the stretch. Saint Martin’s guard Alex Schumacher’s elbow jumper with 14 seconds to play proved to be the game-winner.

Damen Thacker was MSUB’s leading scorer with 14 points and he also notched four assists and three rebounds. Carrington Wiggins and Nicholas Sebastiao also chipped in 13 points apiece.

QUICK HITS

  • Saint Martin’s connected on 45.5% of its field goals, while MSUB made 44.8% from the field.
  • MSUB went 6-for-12 from three in the second half after shooting 3-for-11 in the first.
  • Saint Martin’s out-rebounded MSUB by a slim 35-33 margin.
  • Nicholas Sebastiao was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game for filling the stat sheet to the tune of 13 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
  • Alex Schumacher led the way for the Saints with 20 points and six assists.

Nicholas Sebastiao opened the scoring on MSUB’s first possession on the game, Damen Thacker hit free throws and Malik Brikat made back-to-back buckets to help MSUB take an early 8-1 lead. But Saint Martin’s cut MSUB’s lead to one point on two occasions before the first media timeout. Both times the Saints’ pulled through, however, Carrington Wiggins countered with two corner threes to put the ‘Jackets in front 18-12.

Wiggins didn’t cool off. The junior guard made his first three three-point attempts in the first half, then hit double-figures after sinking a pair of free-throws with 13 minutes to go to put MSUB up 23-12. At the same time, MSUB’s defense stymied Saint Martin’s high-powered offense. The ‘Jackets forced six first-half turnovers while only committing one of their own.

The Yellowjackets’ offense wavered late in the first half, but the team caught a break when Thacker drew contact on a three, which led to three made free-throws from the GNAC’s most accurate free-throw shooter. One empty possession from the Saints later, and the ‘Jackets made it a 30-22 game when Jimmy Brown dribbled into the paint and made an uncontested jumper. Yet that would be MSUB’s last field goal for nearly six minutes.

Saint Martin’s would take a 31-30 lead with 42 seconds to go in the half before Thacker crossed up his defender and sank a midrange jumper on MSUB’s final possession. But the Saints scored on their final possession to take a 34-32 halftime lead.

Like he had in the first half, Sebastiao opened the scoring in the second half, tying the game at 34 with a layup. Although the Saints responded by making three of their first five threes in the half, the Yellowjackets’ hung around with six-straight points from their bench to pull within five, 45-40. With 14.5 minutes to go, Sam Elliott scored on an inbounds play to make it a one-possession game, yet the Saints threatened to break the game open with five-straight points from Alex Schumacher.

Every time the Saints wanted to pull away late, MSUB countered with threes of their own. Elliott answered the call first, sinking a straightaway three to make it a 56-54 game, then Sebastiao kicked off his late flurry of baskets with a corner three. With 6:25 to go, Brent Finn drove baseline and kicked out to Sebastiao in the corner, who sank a three in front of MSUB’s bench, firing up the ‘Jackets. Thacker’s three with 5:29 left put MSUB up 63-62 – its first lead of the half – which kickstarted a mini, 6-0 run. Sebastiao’s third-straight make from distance put the ‘Jackets up 66-62, then the second-year freshman found Wiggins for a layup to make the score 68-64 with 3:05 to play.

Then everything unraveled.

Two turnovers in the final 2:04, then a 6-0 run from Saint Martin’s doomed the ‘Jackets. Schumacher hit an elbow jumper with 14 seconds left to put Saint Martin’s ahead 70-68, but MSUB couldn’t score on the final possession.